This article is a guest contribution from Bill Stone, president and chief engagement officer of RenaissanceIDEA, a demand engagement agency focused on helping marketing teams make their numbers in the new “Age of the Customer.” Bill brings a unique multi-disciplined perspective, borne from the founding of multiple demand and engagement-focused agencies and experience at top branding agency Mullen. He is also responsible for developing of one of the first database marketing corporations.
Marketing automation can be immensely powerful for a B2B company. With the right tools and strategies, you can use automation to accelerate pipeline growth, drive revenue, and reduce customer acquisition costs.
Consider some of the proven financial benefits (if you take-away nothing else, remember this):
- Companies with mature lead generation and lead management programs meet almost 10 percent more of their sales quotas (and few are fully realizing the revenue potential).
- Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more qualified leads at a third less the cost. Why? The new “Age of the Customer” means buyers will not answer your sales call unless they have already done their research. Nurturing tells the “story” that sales has been disinvited to tell.
Companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50 percent more qualified leads at a third less the cost.
But if you know anything about marketing automation, you know it isn’t always easy.
Modern SaaS platforms have done much to lower the barrier to entry, but it still takes a serious investment of time and resources to run full-scale programs and create measurable ROI. According to SiriusDecisions, 85 percent of B2B marketers feel they’re underutilizing their marketing automation platforms (MAPs). A separate study found that 70 percent are unhappy with their software (our take . . . “It’s not about the bike”). Many companies burn out during implementation or shy away from the technology completely. Meanwhile, pre-sales connection rates to buyers hover between 12 and 15 perecent, and only 3-5 percent of those become MQLs (click to tweet).
If the configuration period has long passed and your business isn’t seeing results you’d hoped for, you may have a serious marketing automation problem. As the old adage suggests, the first step in solving your problem is admitting you have one. Look for some of these symptoms:
- Slipping MQLs, or ROI (software tools and campaign investments aren’t paying for themselves)
- Low conversion rates
- Low engagement metrics (clicks, opens, views, downloads)
- Deficient lead quality
- Negative responses to email campaigns (spam flags, opt-outs)
- Failed personalization
You can also examine the strategic process of your marketing automation. Do you understand and acknowledge your buyers pain points and objectives? Do you align lead nurturing tracks and programs with these variables? We coined the terms “pain mapping” & “message mapping” to describe this process. Pain mapping does just that, but by informing buyer personas throughout the journey. We then map messages against the pains to develop a messaging progression of pain —> empathy —> insight to increase buyer engagement programs and thus marketing automation success.
It’s basically about treating people with humanity. I often use a tennis coaching analogy to explain this relationship:
Sales uninvited, no programs to engage
Q: Hey, do you like tennis?
A: I love tennis.
Q: Hey, do you like tennis?
A: I thought we’d established that. I love tennis, but my backhand is giving me problems.
Q: Hey, do you like tennis?
A: What? Bye.
Nurture fills the gap
Q: Hey, are you trying to improve your tennis game?
A: Sure. I love tennis, but everyone has issues.
Pain/Empathy: How’s your backhand? McEnroe has really improved his backhand with this new approach.
A: Really? What’s the approach?
Insight: Check out this quick write-up with a video of how he executes.
A: Cool! Thanks.
Pain/Empathy: A lot of pros like Federer were having issue with their serve . . .
A: Really? How’d they solve that?
We all, at some point, have been the victims of marketing automation that reiterates the same value proposition or product pitch over and over again. It’s ineffective, to say the least.
Solving the Problem Yourself
If you’re trying to improve engagement, MQLs and ROI, there are some basic campaign adjustments you can make on your own. Most of these have to do with improving the content that feeds marketing automation and the processes that govern it.
1. Practice 1-to-1 Marketing
One-to-one marketing was originally a CRM strategy (customer relationship management), but it has equal merit for marketing automation. The premise is simple: engineer your campaigns to create the illusion that each prospect, each lead, is being addressed as a person, by a person.
That means focusing on the buyer’s pain and objectives instead of pitching your products. After you listen to a prospect’s story — literally and metaphorically — you can offer advice and solutions commensurate with their stage in the buying journey. If you provide enough value, people will start asking questions about your product or service on their own (click to tweet).
2. Build Buyer Personas (and use them)
Buyer personas are an articulation of firmographic and demographic data, but they also address intangibles. What qualities make the decision-makers in your market unique? What drives them to consider a solution? What kind of information do they trust?
A strong buyer persona will compile this data into a set of aggregate profiles. As you create content and design campaigns, use these profiles as a guideline. Marketing automation driven by buyer personas is much more likely to connect with the right decision-makers and hand-raisers because it appeals to their interests at specific stages of the buyer’s journey.
3. Communicate Strategically
You might have the most advanced marketing automation platform money can buy, but if all you do is blast your audience with a spam cannon, you’ll never see positive ROI. Worse, subscribers will unsubscribe, reply with nasty comments, and flag your emails as junk — all of which damage your reputation. Eventually, your brand becomes invisible.
While instrumentation is important, you should spend just as much time building an engagement strategy as you do configuring your platform (click to tweet). Segment your audience into scalable and actionable categories and decide when and how often to engage them. Make sure the sequence and frequency of each email, landing page, web form, tele-outreach and display ad presents a relevant message and clear value proposition that advances buyers through their journey.
Did you know that 43 percent of email subscribers would like businesses to email them less frequently, and 48 percent would like the content to be more informative? Sometimes some outside messaging and strategy expertise can provide some much needed objectivity.
4. Test, Optimize, Rinse and Repeat
Despite the obvious implication of its name, marketing “automation” doesn’t run itself. If you take the set-it-and-forget-it approach, you stunt your success over time. To succeed at marketing automation, your team should continuously test different tactics, templates, and content (through surveys, A/B, and multivariate testing, etc.) to optimize campaigns and yield the best results.
Here are some important metrics to consider:
- Lead-to-opportunity conversion rate
- MAL, MQL, SAL, and SQL — defining these (correctly) is important
- Email: click-through rate, open rate, etc.
- Paid media: impressions, cost per acquisition, cost per click
- Website: time on page, downloads, bounce rate, heat-mapping
- Revenue: leads generated, cost per lead, attributed revenue
Get Help When You Need It
The short version of all that? Don’t blame your platform, your budget, or your audience; most marketing automation problems can be traced to the message and the processes that define them (click to tweet). Both are within your power to change.
That said, it might behoove you, at times, to seek help from a third party. There are a number of firms that specialize in engagement strategy for marketing automation under different hallmarks such as “lead management,” and “demand engagement.”
In my career, I’ve seen numerous success stories that resulted from partnerships between B2B companies and strategically-focused engagement consultants.
A global backup and data recovery vendor, for example, increased program ROI by a factor of eight by partnering with my firm, RenaissanceIDEA (see a few more success stories here). Their marketing team was struggling to understand buyers, and pipeline contributions had slowed to a trickle. The leads they did pass to sales were low in quality. By tailoring their content to the needs and interests of their audience and feeding that content through their existing automation tools in a programmatic way, the vendor drastically increased the volume, value, and velocity of sales-ready leads in less than six months.
Another B2B vendor saw a 58 percent increase in lead-to-opportunity conversion through a similar programmatic consulting relationship — including updated messaging, updated personas, new engagement content assets and microsite, and an improved lead nurturing process.
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At the moment, marketing automation is standard procedure for enterprises, new-ish for midmarket companies, and terrifying for small businesses (click to tweet). As pioneers work out the kinks and define best practices, adoption will likely increase across all segments. MarketsandMarkets says automation tools will be worth $5.5 billion by 2019.
Implementing a pricey platform only to see it underperform in the first year is less than ideal, but common. If this happens to your business, don’t despair. Look back at what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, and compare your approach to what the industry and your own testing have proven successful. Good luck!